The sizzling disciplinary line 'act your age' has been thrown about to everyone from sniggering teenage boys to elderly women with a penchant for mischief. Be mature, it warns. Act appropriately in line with your peers, don’t overstep, know your place.
This rhetoric has now been applied to the workplace, with a new quip making the internet rounds: acting your wage. The trend, predominately driven by TikTok, encourages employees to output work in accordance with their pay. Instead of striving to work to impress or to go beyond expectations, acting your wage is about fulfilling bare work minimums.
Sarai Soto, a 30-year-old Seattle-based content creator, has garnered over 87.9 million TikTok likes for her portrayals of toxic millennial workplaces.
“Always remember that the amount that you're getting paid does reflect the amount of work that you put in,” Soto says in one of her videos. Reaching over 15 million people, Soto walks through what acting your wage actually looks like. In it, Susan (her imaginary manager character) asks her to work after hours, schedules a 6:30pm Zoom meeting, demands that she be available during her leave and places an unrealistic workload of two people on her shoulders.
Soto’s Gen Z character Veronica declines, citing that she would “rather spend time with [her] family” and that she’s loyal to her nine-to-five working hours, so won’t be working outside of them.
"If a company is paying you, let's say minimum wage, you're gonna put in minimum effort," Soto told Insider. "If you're acting your wage, that means the amount of labour you're putting in reflects the amount that you're getting paid. So you're not going to go above and beyond and do the job of two to three people and do all this extra work if you're really not even making a liveable wage.”
Like the quiet quitting discourse, acting your wage has caused a great deal of conflict and disagreement.
Jack Delosa, the founder of business coaching provider The Entourage, condemns the practice entirely. “Acting your wage is a trend for people who want to go nowhere, fast. You need to act the wage you want… If you would rather be in a role that prioritises balance and lifestyle, then you need to find a culture that’s conducive to that," he tells Refinery29 Australia. "But don’t sit in a high-performance small business requesting career development and progression, and then complain about the amount of work that comes with it.”
When it comes to workplace trends like these, Wendy Syfret, author of The Sunny Nihilist, acknowledges that these buzzy terms are typically just “a repackaging of workers’ rights”. The Melbourne-based editor reflects on previous times where employees of hers have implemented ‘acting their wage’.
“I've asked [staff] to do stuff and they've respectfully said to me, ‘I'd love to do that but that pushes me into another pay bracket, [so] I’m going to need an extra $10,000 to do that,” she tells Refinery29 Australia. “It’s obviously frustrating to hear that in the second. But overall, I actually always walk out of a task-based negotiation, even if I didn't agree with a person, with respect for them being able to stand up for themselves.”
But the thing is — in most of these scenarios, these workers are still competent workers. They’re serving their customers, following the rules and doing what is required of them.
“Following your job description shouldn't be considered the bare minimum,” Syfret says. “I think it’s an interesting dichotomy that we've been caught in, we've been so conditioned to think doing your job is the bare minimum — it’s not.”
Reflecting on her own career, Syfret isn’t fond of lean-in culture. “I don't like the idea of working for a hypothetical reward; this idea that if I do all this stuff now, maybe I'll get paid for it later. I kind of believe, like, ‘No, give me what I deserve now’”.
Industry experts like Forbes’ senior contributor Jack Kelly consider acting your wage as a way of “slacking”, “coasting” and “cruise control[ling]” through work.
Syfret pushes back on this narrative. “I don't think that to excel in your job you should be giving people free labour. I think to excel in [your] job, you should be respectfully fulfilling the task that you have been hired to do.”
“The benefit is that it takes away the chance of people being exploited,” Syfret says. “It allows people to be a bit more accountable for themselves but it can also be empowering for people to put up barriers around work because they actually know what people are getting paid.”
Act your wage, if you please. Or better yet — act your wage in accordance with your colleagues.